Grit: The Critical Skill to Being in the Top 20% of the Top 20%
Take a moment to consider how valuable the U.S. Navy SEAL Teams are in this day and age of Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the brand of missions required to fight a covert enemy eager to pull on a suicide belt.
Now factor in the costs associated with a military selection process that is so demanding that 80% of those that have qualified to start BUD/S (no easy task in itself) fail to make it.
In fact, dig in and the attrition rate is worse than it first appears. Each SEAL training class of roughly 175 that assembles in pre-dawn Coronado for Day 1 on the grinder is a mere fraction of those who applied. By my count, with five SEAL classes per year there are roughly 4500 young men applying for one of these coveted slots on an annual basis, of which around 875 are granted a shot at at BUD/S. Annually speaking, roughly 175 survive the six-month training program and have a Trident pinned to their chest.
Do the math and it comes down to a stark digit that that must raise some eyebrows in DOD: Only .04% of those who aspire to become Frogmen succeed.
Those stats are pretty rough. The SEAL training command observed that everyone who applied at the recruiter level was an athlete and sincere in their desire and readiness. Yet only 20% of these applicants made it to BUD/S. Then, of those who make the cut and go to BUD/S, all looked great on paper: They had the baseline level of fitness required, as well as the intellect (based on the ASVAB test requirements) and the personality to succeed (based on a personality profile). Each trainee truly thought they would be a SEAL, as did their parents, coaches and mentors. They are some of the best and brightest young talent in the country, a mix of high-achieving academic-types and athletic state champions: achievers through and through. Yet only one out of five of make it through the training!
The commanders who took a look at these numbers had a question: What the hell is going on? They tasked an expert to conduct a study and give them some hard answers. So the psychologist they hired rigorously assessed the few who made it from the starting line of BUD/S to the end of the six-month ordeal, and, in time, produced an answer: To the astonishment of the SEALs, the scientific expert concluded that the last men standing at BUD/S—just 20% of the original class—had…drum roll please…GRIT!
We wonder how much the Navy paid for this profound insight, which you and I could have told them for free. So evidently, the .04% of the interested population who can make it through BUD/S have “grit.” Ok, cool, we’ve put a name on it. So why don’t we avoid all the fuss and expense and just recruit the guys who have this thing called grit?
Well, it’s obviously not that easy to know who has grit and who doesn’t have grit. There is very little in “normal” life that simulates the SEAL experience to compare to (except for SEALFIT, a recent addition to the candidate’s quiver). Grit is a skill that the lucky .04% somehow stumbled upon, or actively cultivated on the farm, inner city or through a gut-wrenching athletic endeavor. Therefore, it appears—and we have confirmed this at SEALFIT—grit is a skill. Here’s the good news: skills can be developed. So if this is the case, then how can YOU develop SEAL-like grit to have the courage and confidence to persevere through challenges in your own life?
Let’s start with resiliency. Resiliency, the ability to bounce back quickly after a setback, is an important component of grit. My Mentor, Mr. Nakamura, used to say to us: “fall down seven times, get up eight!” I love that—get nailed with a blow, just jump to your feet and start moving again.
Comparatively, what’s the more common response to getting knocked on your ass? It’s this:
Pause too long while assessing damage and mourning your loss, destroying momentum and allowing motivation to seep through the cracks.
Retreat and vow to try again another day, a day unlikely to come.
Limp along in self-pity wondering why your tidy little plan has failed.
Blame someone or something else for the perceived failure and throw in the towel.
People with resiliency don’t succumb to practicing these weak responses. Rather, they hungrily embrace the temporary setback as a “learning moment” for the insights that it offers, and they innately understand that they will grow and become stronger by persisting through these challenges. So getting knocked down, in other words, holds within it the seeds to becoming a better person.
But grit is also about your emotional strength. Though control of your mind is crucial for resiliency, grit also requires understanding, controlling and working with your emotions. Most successful people in the world are not successful just because they have thundering IQ’s and the ability to endure failures, but more importantly because they have off-the-charts EQ’s. They learn to understand and control their emotions so that when they are kicked in the groin they don’t lose control. Instead, they smile and keep moving. Connecting emotionally builds their socially intelligence, allowing them to lead from the heart and have compassion for their teammates, even their adversaries. What I am saying is that not only do they bounce back with speed, they do so with a pleasing personality, while leading their team effectively to the other side. Since SEAL instructors are charged with selecting their next crop of teammates, they look for this refined quality of grit in candidates, which is demonstrated as calm authenticity in leadership while under the harshest circumstances.
Emotional intelligence requires a combination of agile self-control and a high self-esteem. These fuse into an attitude of optimism about your prospects now and in the future. The emotionally mature person has self-confidence to FEEL that they will find a way, or make a way, whatever is necessary to achieve the objective. Equally important, that faith in themselves allows them to focus more on the team rather than falling prey to a pity-party absorption in their own struggles. “This too shall pass,” they say, as they keep their mind on the “why,” their heart on the team, and their eye on the task. When the smoke clears and the sun comes up, they find themselves in the company of the 20% of the 20% who have grit. They are truly ready to take bold action.
Until next time, train hard, stay safe, and get grit!
–Fmr Navy SEAL CDR Mark Divine
Join Mark and Fellow SEAL’s at his Unbeatable Mind Retreat December 4th – 6th. This is a life-changing experience for anyone looking to learn about SEAL principles, health and peak performance – with LIVE, hands-on training from CDR. Divine and a world-renowned team of experts.